CubaBrief: Bacardi champions sustainable development while the Communist regime in Cuba jails journalists and destroys the environment making rum

Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd around the world, and Nicola Carruthers writing in The Spirits Business highlighted companies with initiatives to protect the environment and support sustainable development. According to Carruthers, “in 2018, Bacardi teamed up with environmental charity Lonely Whale to clamp down on single-use plastic and eradicate one billion plastic straws by 2020. The Future Doesn’t Suck campaign saw Bacardi remove “non-essential”, non-recyclable single-use plastic across its global supply chain.” Bacardi shifted some of its production last month to produce hand sanitizer in response to COVID-19, much of which is being given to police, nurses, non-profits and others battling coronavirus on the frontlines. The company has also set up a $ 3 million dollar fund to provide financial support, meals and other necessities to help bar owners and bar staff impacted by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Cuba there is a crackdown underway for those who are providing independent information on the situation on the ground. Independent journalists are jailed for doing their job. Amnesty International has issued a second urgent action for “63-year-old independent journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces.” He was “imprisoned on 11 September 2019 for “resistance” and “disobedience”, remains in the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo in concerning sanitary conditions, according to reports. His family stated he has also developed health conditions, which may put him at increased risk in face of COVID-19.”

Roberto Quiñones Haces

Roberto Quiñones Haces

Amnesty International is demanding that “Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release [ Roberto Quiñones ] and other prisoners of conscience in the country, amid grave fears over the spread of COVID-19 in Cuba’s prisons.”  Independent journalists have broken important stories in the past such as the Cuban government’s 2012 response to the cholera outbreak that netted independent journalist Calixto Martinez prison time and recognition as a prisoner of conscience.  In 2018, Julio Batista was the winner of the King of Spain Journalism Award for his reporting on pollution from Cuba’s main rum distillery in a long 2017 investigative piece titled “The dead waters of Havana Club“. (An English excerpt of the report is included below.)

Sadly, the communist takeover of Cuba’s main rum distillery, and taking of Havana Club from “the Arechabala Family on June 1, 1960 at gun point ended a family rum-making business that had started in 1878 in Cuba. The Arechabala family lost everything and was forced to flee their homeland, with a scant few of their remaining possessions – the precious Havana Club recipe being one of them. Meanwhile, the Castro regime started to sell their stolen version of Havana Club, that today “pumps 1,288 cubic meters of waste liquids into the Chipriona inlet every day, mostly vinasse (a residual liquid remaining from the fermentation and distillation of alcoholic liquors). It has been doing that since the 1990s, although the problems became more acute starting in 2007,” according to Julio Batista in his 2017 report.

Bacardi, founded in Cuba in 1862, has demonstrated over the years a concern for sustainable development and rootedness to Cuba with a multigenerational sense of belonging and protection of their properties, and surrounding communities. The late British philosopher Roger Scruton explained that ” for it is only private ownership that confers responsibility for the environment as opposed to the unqualified right to exploit it, a right whose effect we saw in the ruined landscapes and poisoned waterways of the former Soviet empire.” Unfortunately, these ruined landscapes and poisoned waterways are found all too often today in Castro’s Cuba. The video below is in Spanish, but the images of environmental destruction at Chipriona inlet are understood in any language.

The Spirit Business, April 22, 2020

Spirits initiatives championing sustainability

by Nicola Carruthers


In 2018, Bacardi teamed up with environmental charity Lonely Whale to clamp down on single-use plastic and eradicate one billion plastic straws by 2020.

The Future Doesn’t Suck campaign saw Bacardi remove “non-essential”, non-recyclable single-use plastic across its global supply chain.

As part of the initiative, Bacardi and Lonely Whale also called for an end to the use of plastic straws in emojis.

The companies issued a “cease and de-sip” letter to the Unicode Consortium, the organisation that manages the emoji catalogue, requesting the removal of plastic straws from the soda cup and cocktail emojis.

Amnesty International, April 23, 2020

Second UA: 122/19 Index: AMR 25/2210/2020 Cuba Date: 23 April 2020


Cuba: Prisoner of conscience at risk of COVID-19: Roberto Quiñones Haces

63-year-old independent journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces, imprisoned on 11 September 2019 for “resistance” and “disobedience”, remains in the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo in concerning sanitary conditions, according to reports. His family stated he has also developed health conditions, which may put him at increased risk in face of COVID-19. We demand Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and other prisoners of conscience in the country, amid grave fears over the spread of COVID-19 in Cuba’s prisons.


Mr. Miguel Díaz Canel
President of the Republic of Cuba
Hidalgo, Esquina 6. Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, CP 10400, Cuba
Twitter: @DiazCanelB

Dear President,

I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of 63-year-old independent journalist and prisoner of conscience Mr Roberto Quiñones Haces, serving a one-year sentence in the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo. Recently, Mr Quiñones has reportedly developed gastrointestinal and other health complications linked to pre-existing medical conditions, according to his family. Mr Quiñones has also written about his prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor food and water quality, and lack of adequate medical attention. According to the World Health Organization, some individuals appear to be at particular risk of severe illness or death linked to COVID-19, including older individuals and people with pre-existing medical conditions. Mr Quiñones falls under both conditions. Under international law, Cuba must protect at-risk populations, such as people in detention, from COVID-19 without discrimination. Therefore, I urge you to immediately and unconditionally release Roberto Quiñones Haces and all prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

Yours sincerely,


According to information available to Amnesty International, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces, a lawyer, an independent journalist at the news website Cubanet, was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison in August 2019 by the Municipal Court of Guantanamo for resistance and disobedience. He was arrested on 11 September 2019 and has been in prison ever since.

During his detention since September 2019, Roberto Quiñones Haces has been regularly reporting the prison conditions in which he is held. On March 31, he wrote in Cubanet that even though prison authorities had implemented certain measures regarding COVID-19, “the quality of the food is still deplorable. Despite reports of the vulnerability of older adults (prisoners over 60) to COVID-19, many of them are kept in cubicles where they live in overcrowded conditions with almost two dozen people.”

On March 5, he had already described the quality of food and water served in prison, as well as the medical attention available to prisoners. According to his family, he is allegedly held in a small cell with at least 17 other individuals, sharing beds and sanitary services in the same cell. International human rights standards regarding the rights of persons deprived of liberty or in detention are particularly relevant considering a global health crisis as COVID-19. In general, all prisoners must be granted protection and access to healthcare in the face of COVID-19, without discrimination. People who have no choice but to be in close proximity to each other face particular risk for COVID-19, based on the information currently available.

In countries such as Cuba, activists, including political activists, and human rights defenders are regularly imprisoned solely for their consciously held beliefs. These people should not be in prison in the first place and should be immediately released. Therefore, our primary call under these circumstances is that Cuba should release all prisoners of conscience and those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their freedoms of expression and conscience. Roberto Quiñones Haces also has health affections that put him at increased risk, due to his age. Cuban authorities must release Roberto immediately and unconditionally, considering the risk that COVID-19 poses, besides his condition as a prisoner of conscience.

On 20 August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Office of the Special Rapporteur condemned the prison sentence against journalist Roberto Quiñones and expressed concern about the persistence of criminalization and harassment against communicators and human rights defenders in Cuba. The Office of the Special Rapporteur in a recent report on Cuba, found that state agents are the “main source of threats and attacks against the press” and called on this practice to be “dismantled and sanctioned.”

Amnesty International has found that the disproportionate and arbitrary use of the criminal law, and campaigns of state-sponsored discrimination against those who dare to speak out, coupled with discriminatory dismissals from state-employment, and the lack of an independent judiciary to challenge this, has created a profound climate of fear in Cuba.

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas which Amnesty International is not permitted to enter for human rights monitoring work.



NAME AND PREFERRED PRONOUN: Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces (He, his, him)


Periodismo de Barrio, August 28, 2017

The dead waters of Havana Club

In the last decade, the Chipriona cove has become the outlet for the largest rum distillery in Cuba.

Everybody knows. No one prevents it.

By Julio Batista Rodríguez

The state protects the environment and natural resources of the country.

                          Article 27 of the Cuban Constitution

The Chipriona inlet is a place where no one goes, where no one fishes, that doesn’t need a fence because no one wants to swim in the boiling filth that flows into its waters every day.

The waters of what used to be a beach are now soupy and have the sour smell of decomposition. No studies about the marine life in the inlet are publicly available, but fishermen say there’s no fish there.

The distillery that makes Havana Club rum pumps 1,288 cubic meters of waste liquids into the inlet every day, mostly vinasse. It has been doing that since the 1990s, although the problems became more acute starting in 2007.

At the commercial fishing dock in Santa Cruz del Norte, workers don’t want to talk. They have already complained a lot to the local office of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), but their complaints don’t seem to have been useful. Or even recorded.

In the last decade, Chipriona has become the drainage point for the Ronera Sana Cruz, the biggest distillery in the country and one of the four owned by Cuba Ron S.A. It’s the end point of the sewage of the only place where the white and 3-year-old brands are distilled by Havana Club International (HCI). And the dumping ground for a company that earned $118.5 million in profits in 2016 from the sale of 4.2 million boxes each with nine liters of rum.

The Cuban government stood to earn 59 percent of those profits.

Maybe that’s why the fishermen in Santa Cruz believe their battle is lost.

The fishermen believe their battle is lost. (Photo: Julio Batista)

The fishermen believe their battle is lost. (Photo: Julio Batista)

Andy is the skipper of the La niña, a small boat with a white and red hull anchored at the mouth of the Santa Cruz river. When he finished preparing his hooks and storing his supplies in a dilapidated hut near the dock, we went aboard his boat. “Look for yourself,” said Andy, one of the fishermen who got tired of complaining.

It takes five minutes by boat to get to Chipriona, an inlet about 400 meters long and 70 wide at its biggest point. The water is a brown puddle, very dirty and showing almost no surface movement. The rock walls around the inlet show a white stripe, almost one meter high above the sea level, where nothing grows. It is a white border the color of bleached bones. The scene is completed by the steaming wastes that flow like a river out of the distillery and into Chipriona.

Among the fishermen there’s talk about the “drunks” – the groggy sardines that reach the Santa Cruz del Norte bay, and the dead fish that float belly up into the bay.

In many ways, Chipriona smells of death.


Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

Ronera Santa Cruz currently produces 60 million liters per year. More than half are Havana Club products. Photo: Julio Batista.

Environmental damage: all significant loss, reduction, deterioration or erosion

of the environment or one of its components

that is produced in violation of legal regulations.

Law No. 81 on the Environment, Article 8

The Santa Cruz distillery was founded Sept. 30 1919 as a small factory that produced alcohol and aguardiente, a raw drink distilled from the juice of sugar cane. But months later, when the U.S. Prohibition started (Jan. 16 1920) its location on the northern coast of Cuba, flanked by Santa Cruz and Chipriona and far from Havana, it became a busy port for liquor smuggled to the United States.

The smuggling continued even after the end of Prohibition, and over the next 40 years the factory saw ownership changes, labor strikes, firings and political ploys. It was in fact closed for three months by the municipal government in 1948 “for failing to meet the most basic sanitation measures and especially environmental measures.”

The Ronera was nationalized by Fidel Castro’s government in August of 1960, and 11 years later the Cuban ruler told its employees that he planned to make it “the biggest rum factory in Cuba.” In 1973 he met his promise with a massive increase in its production capacity.

report by the factory to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the National Network for Cleaner Production noted that “the aggressiveness of the distillery’s wastes requires a treatment that is initially very costly.” Because of that, it was decided in 1985 “to use a formula commonly used around the world at the time in order to get a satisfactory discharge at a reasonable cost without significantly increasing the cost of production costs.

That formula was to dilute the wastes in the sea.

“For that reason, the solution adopted involved an underwater pipe that carries the wastes to a point in the sea, at a distance that guarantees that the area or cone of contamination that is produced does not impact the coastline,” the report noted. “The sector where the discharge is carried out was declared to have no relevant economic importance and there are no beach areas closer than 10 kilometers.”

The distillery’s report includes mistakes, specifically the claim that there are no beaches closer than 10 kms. Rotilla, a well known beach, is less than one km east of the factory. Jibacoa beach is less than 7 km away and right at the 10 km mark are several camping areas on the north coast of Mayabeque Province.

Problems with the discharge of the wastes were first noticed in the 1980s, because the materials used to build the underwater pipeline were not the proper ones. The acids in the waste liquids eroded the pipeline, filtered into the subsoil and weakened the rock underneath. Harsh proof came when a distillery on the northwest side of the factory began sinking in the early 1980s.

Although reports of gases emanating from the Ronera were common, it was the discovery of “collapsing cones in the subsoil due to the presence of karst cavities in the area, which have reached even a catastrophic level,” that led to a detailed study by experts from GEOCUBA and CUPET titled “Environmental Diagnoses of the Santa Cruz Rum Factoryfrom a Geospatial Analytical Viewpoint.

Although initially it was considered possible that the gases were linked to underground oil deposits, the expert analysis allowed the investigators to dismiss that hypothesis and declare that the “emanations of gases is the result of the accumulation of wastes in natural caves.” The origin of the gases was nothing other than the anaerobic decomposition of the vinasse that had leaked into the ground, dissolving the karst rock and the “impact of the (factory) installations on the structures,” according to the report.

Measurements at the factory showed high concentrations of hydrosulfuric acid (SH2) that reached “7.46 times the normal levels in the air.” But specialists from both of the groups in the study concluded that the problem could not be resolved “until the discharge of wastes has been definitively resolved.” And for that, they recommended “mayor repairs to the network for discharging the waste waters, which requires a work plan designed to eliminate the uncontrolled discharges that result from technological deficiencies in all the installations.”

In 1993, the factory was put under the control of the newly formed Corporacion Cuba Ron S.A. And after Pernod Ricard started to invest in rum production in Cuba in 1994, the factory stopped many of its other production lines and focused almost exclusively on production for Havana Club Internacional (HCI).

Yuslán Sánchez Viera, head of the distillery’s quality control department, explains that “within Cuba Ron and the Food Industry Ministry, the only enterprises that distill aguardiente are Santa Cruz and San Jose de las Lajas, and the latter has been closed since August of 2016. That’s why today, Santa Cruz provides all the aguardiente that the corporation uses in its distilleries in Cardenas, Villa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. It also provides this same precursor product to the Enterprise for Drinks and Sodas (EMBAR), and makes the broth … which is used to produce the rum sold in bulk and the rum that is sold in pesos.”

The Ronera Santa Cruz produced 60 million liters in about 310 working days in 2016. About 36 million of that went to HCI. Some of the rum is bottled in Santa Cruz, but the rest is shipped in containers to Manzanares in Spain, where Pernod Ricard – 50-50 partners with HCI and in charge of international sales – bottles it and distributes it in Europe.

Today, and as the CUPET and GEOCUBA report details, the wastes flow under the distillery’s eastern wall and into the sea without any controls and at temperatures as high as 96 degrees centigrade (205 Fahrenheit) – hot enough to burn the hooves of an adult sheep.

Although Cuban laws prohibit these kinds of practices, the distillery’s untreated wastes wind up in the ocean. Photo Jullio Batista.

As a result of its distillation of alcohol, from sugar cane products called final honeys, the rum factory generates liquid wastes that are 90 percent vinasse, a dense brown liquid considered to be the worst contaminant produced by the sugar industry because of its high acidity, Chemical Demand for Oxygen (CDO) and Biological Demand for Oxygen (BDO), according to Yaniris Lorenzo, who heads the National Environmental Center for the Sugar Industry and Derivatives.

The CDO and BDO are the quantities of oxygen required to oxidize the organic matter in the residuals. When they are high in a marine setting, the levels of oxygen dissolved in the water drop and the ecosystem that depends on that oxygen is affected.

A study titled “Exploiting the liquid residuals from distilleries for the production of biogas” confirms that “the disposal of the vinasses in water blocks the sun’s light because they are deeply colored, reducing the oxygenation generated by the photosynthesis of marine plants, killing the aquatic life because of the linkage between aquatic life and its metabolism and the consumption of oxygen dissolved in the water. Another factor that helps to reduce the oxygen dissolved in water is the high temperature of the vinasses when they are discharged, heating up the water and reducing the solubility of oxygen in the water.”

Chipriona receives more than 1.2 million liters of boiling vinasses each day, ensuring that the cycle described above continues.

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